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The Once and Future King
T. H. (Terence Hanbury) White
Type of work
Fantasy; heroic epic; satire
Time and place written
Date of first publication
1958. The four books that make
up the novel were previously published separately: “The Sword in
the Stone” in 1938; “The Queen of Air and
Darkness” (published as The Witch in the Wood)
in 1939; “The Ill-Made Knight” in 1940;
and “The Candle in the Wind” in 1958.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient,
or all-knowing. The narrator has access to the thoughts of all the characters
and provides commentary on the context of the work, as in the references
to Adolf Hitler, Uncle Sam, and Sir Thomas Malory.
Point of view
In general, the novel oscillates among the points
of view of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenever, though it occasionally
assumes the point of view of minor characters such as Elaine and Gawaine.
The tone changes throughout the four books of the
novel. It is playful and satirical in the first book, but gradually
grows darker and more serious
The era of King Arthur, a legendary figure in the
folklore of medieval England
Medieval England and France
Arthur, who is called the Wart in Book I, is the protagonist
of most of the novel, but Lancelot is the protagonist of the third book.
Arthur struggles to transform feudal England into
a civilized country in which strength does not overwhelm justice.
Lancelot’s destructive love affair with Guenever;
the jealous conspiracies of the Orkney faction; Arthur’s incestuous
affair with Morgause
Because the novel is episodic in form, each of its
books comes to its own minor climax: in Book I, Arthur’s becoming
king; in Book II, Morgause’s seduction of Arthur; in Book III, the blossoming
of Lancelot and Guenever’s affair; and in Book IV, the exposing
of Lancelot and Guenever’s affair.
Arthur wages war against Lancelot; Mordred seizes
The relationship between force and justice; the senselessness
of war; the frivolity of knighthood
Myths and legends; blood sports; castles
The Round Table; the Questing Beast; the Holy Grail
Merlyn’s frequent comments about Arthur’s future and
death hint at the destruction of Camelot and the demise of Arthur’s reign,
which is the most prominent subject of foreshadowing in the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Once and Future King!